Jump to content
Learn Chinese in China

Empress Wu Zetian


Recommended Posts

I think that few monarchs, ancient or modern, have been as fascinating as Wu Zetian (or Wu Tse Tien, as her name is sometimes spelled). Her rise from obscurity to absolute power is truly amazing; and her eventual fall was just as meteoric.Everything that Wu ever did in her long life was planned on a grand scale, to impress, to awe, to astonish. This remarkable Tang woman lived in an age, in a nation, in which there were numerous unforgettable females. With brilliance and shrewd determination, Wu managed to outshine all the others. She remains in our memories as a beautiful, formidable, undeniably dangerous pillar of strength and power.


And now there is the film version of Wu Zetian's life: "Empress of China", with Fan Bing-Bing in the lead role. This production has had very mixed reviews; its main claim to fame seems to be the beauty of the starring actress, her extravagant dresses (surely nothing so elaborate and fanciful was known in Tang times, not even in imperial palaces!), and... ahem!...the protagonist's daring cleavage.


What is the real value of this lavish, gorgeously produced film? I've not seen it; how faithful is "Empress of China" to the authentic life and times of Wu Zetian? I'd appreciate comments from other members.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

Did you mean a film or a TV drama? I have seen the TV drama. I don't know there is a film. But there is a film by Fan Bingbing about Yang Guifei, another famous Tang woman.

And is this thread about film/ TV or history?

PS - People say that the Wu Zetian TV show is very Mary Sue.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Technically a tv drama...But these are "filmed", too, like the BBC dramas for example, and may thus be shown again as re-runs on future occasions.


This forum deals primarily with history; thus I have stressed the life of the real Empress Wu Zetian, hoping to discover if the tv version is accurate historically speaking or just a sensationalized fantasy story. At any rate, Wu was a far more fascinating personage than any fictional character could be!


By the way, was the film about Yang Guifei faithful to history? Over the centuries, there have been hundreds of poems, songs, plays, novels and films about this tragic Tang lady. I wonder how close to the truth these fictionalized accounts are.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Reitia, Emperor Wu did not fall. She died on the throne of natural causes - or at least that's what it looks like even for the poison friendly Tang court- at the age of 81. I believe the series also has her dying naturally and having the lavish funeral due to an emperor. 


She was officially proclaimed Emperor, not empress. Any emperor's main wife was entitled to the empress title, and empress dowager on his death. So Wu's proclamation as emperor is a real strong statement, and she made herself a dynasty founder: the Zhou, which reverted to Tang on her death. Even Empress Dowager Cixi, another formidable Chinese lady, didn't dare claim the Emperor title for herself.


I saw the series. Yes, very Mary Sue-empresses in palace type of thing. It was extremely shallow and more into dresses and cleavages than into real political and social issues. I can't imagine what the movie would be like, how are they going to fit all those dresses and furnishings into 120 or so minutes?


The Yang Guifei movie which I saw last weekend is utter rubbish. The plot is 'abbreviated' (and distorted) to include only what's shallow and insubstantial but little of real history. The movie jumps from her becoming Xuanzong's main consort to the An Lushan rebellion - which surfaces on the plot completely out of nowhere. One scene shows Xuanzong and Guifei enjoying a Caucasian troupe wearing Tudor costumes and dancing a galliarda, in the 700s! 


Sadly, the quality of much mainstream Chinese historical dramas seems to have dropped to the floor in the Xi era. I'm starting to believe that Xi is as nefarious to Chinese culture as Mao, if not more.


Edited to clarify that she died while still an emperor.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello Luxi,


Thanks for writing to me.


Empress Wu Zetian DID fall, in the sense that she was forced to cede her throne to her son Li Xian. On 23 February 705, Li Xian became emperor. From that time until her death on 16 December 705, Wu was referred to only as Empress Regnant, no longer as Emperor. This was a final token of respect for a woman who, for good or ill, had ruled China forcefully for many years.


It's a pity that Chinese history has been and continues to be so disgracefully distorted. But there are efforts to present Tang events in a credible light. One such effort is the splendid novel "The Court of the Lion", written by Eleanor Cooney. This brilliant work, which incorporates a huge labour of historical and cultural research, provides us with a thoroughly believable, seldom idealized account of the lives of Yang Guifei, Emperor Xuanzong, An Lushan and many other real personages. The novel is extremely long...it surpasses even Richardson's "Clarissa" in length...but is fast-paced and enthralling. Highly recommended for everyone who loves the atmosphere of the Tang Dynasty.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...